While it’s true that cookies and quinoa both contain starch, they don’t affect the body in the same way. If your idea of starches is only based on processed grains or deep fried junk foods, you may be surprised to learn that some starches are among the healthiest foods you can eat. So, what are starches, exactly? Which types of starches are healthy and unhealthy, and how can you add more of the good ones to your diet?
What Are Starches?
Three kinds of carbohydrates are found in nature: sugar, fiber, and starches. Remember from previous blogs and workshops that all plant matter are carbohydrates. All carbohydrates convert to glucose sugar in the bloodstream during digestion and then absorption. What moves the glucose sugar slowly or quickly through the bloodstream and affects our energy is the amount of fiber in the plant foods we consume. All starches are carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are starches. White table sugar, for example, is a simple carbohydrate, while both fiber and starches are complex carbohydrates. Once we subject complex carbohydrates to processing, though, the simplified carbs are digested rapidly, and spike blood glucose just as dramatically.
Types of Starches
There are three types of starches:
1. Rapidly Digestible Starch
2. Slowly Digestible Starch
3. Resistant Starch
Starch-containing foods typically include all three types, in varying amounts. Let's take a closer look at the 3 types of starches in plant foods.
1. Rapidly Digestible Starch: In rapidly digestible starch (RDS), the glucose units are easily digested when you eat them, which can lead to a quick spike in blood sugar quickly followed by a hunger-producing drop in blood sugar (a phenomenon known as hypoglycemia). This happens in about 30 minutes. If we eat a lot of rapidly digestible starch foods, it can cause inflammation and stress throughout the body's systems. Over time, it can be particularly dangerous for people with insulin resistance and diabetes.
2. Slowly Digestible Starch: In slowly digestible starch (SDS), the molecules of starch digest and absorb slowly and keeps the blood sugar balanced. There are no spikes and there is a sustained release of energy, over the course of about 2 hours. These foods are on the low glycemic index, and is healthy for everyone, especially those with insulin resistance and diabetes. This type of starch may be helpful in controlling and preventing hyperglycemia-related diseases, including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
3. Resistant Starch: In resistant starch (RS), there is a fermentable fiber that is not digested. It is, however, fermented by the trillions of bacteria in your colon. This fermentation produces short-chain fatty acids that provide energy to cells in your large intestine and do a lot of good everywhere in the body.The foods highest in resistant starch are whole grains, legumes, potatoes, and green bananas. Resistant starch are prebiotics that ferment and turn into food for the good bacteria in your digestive system. Eating resistant starch boosts the population of these beneficial bugs, which are commonly called probiotics. So fortified, these good critters crowd out the bad ones, making for a happier gut. Resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity. Resistant starch may help prevent obesity due to low calorie and high density foods will usually satiate hunger. Resistant starch also may lower cholesterol.
Some studies suggest that the storage and reheating process might increase resistant starch by promoting interactions between the starch and other components of the food, like proteins and lipids. So, reheating cold rice, potatoes, and pasta may change the RDS into RS!
The good news is that it’s easy to all of the forms of starch if you eat plenty of whole plant foods.
If your current diet doesn’t contain much resistant starch, there are plenty of ways you can add some.
The best way to reap the benefits of resistant starch is to increase your consumption of whole foods that naturally contain it. While you’re at it, try to eat them in their whole state — not ground up, pureed, or otherwise blended, as we’ve seen that processing generally changes SDS into RDS. Another way to boost your intake of resistant starch is to eat these types of foods with berries. Why? Berries act as starch blockers. Raspberries, for example, inhibit the enzyme that we use to digest starch, leaving more for your gut flora.You might also enjoy using resistant starch flours in the kitchen. Two of the flours that are highest in resistant starch are potato starch and green banana flour. Both of these lose their digestion resistance when cooked, though, so for optimal health benefits it’s best to add them to raw foods like smoothies, shake mixes, or energy balls (or just sprinkle them over other foods).
I hope this short tutorial shows you the way to increasing your overall wellness, leading to more joy and happiness. Remember, happiness is your birthright.